Monday, 5 March 2012

Apps Mania: can the success of consumer mobile applications be replicated in the enterprise?

With the world of mobile technology now fully gripped by mobile applications, we examine the current state of the market, paying special attention to how the enterprise space differs from the consumer arena;

Rising numbers of software developers creating mobile applications shows no sign of abating. 500k applications now available on Apple’s iOS, 500k on Android, 60k for BlackBerry and 85k for Windows Phone. Following the dotcom boom there seems to be a get-rich-quick mentality which most evidence suggests to be unrealistic. But the numbers of applications already available aren’t putting off developers in their own quests to become the next dotmob billionaire.

Making money

The likelihood of making your million overnight thanks to an app store is incredibly remote. Competition in the form of compelling free-to-download applications and sheer numbers, is fierce, which means that getting consumers to part with cash for mobile applications is an increasingly hard task.

But not impossible. “Freemium” strategies of generating revenues are said to be on the rise. That is, a free-to-download application which offers further content or functionality upon payment. IHS Screen Digest found that in-app purchases accounted for about 39 per cent of app revenues in 2011, and predicted that by 2015 it would account for 64 per cent of all revenues.

Publisher paywalls such as that introduced by The Times newspaper are another option, offering a pay-as-you-go model for content, while in-application advertising revenue can also be earned from click-throughs, but these profits are unlikely to be handsome.

Consumer to enterprise – copy/paste?

Despite all the evidence suggesting mobile applications are not a get-rich-quick opportunity, the mobile application juggernaut is showing no signs of slowing. This is thanks in no small part to the hype: the daily column inches and web presence it commands. As a result of this it could be tempting to simply try and replicate consumer application success in the enterprise space. How hard can it be?

Answer: very hard. Designing enterprise mobility applications is fraught with even bigger challenges than designing broad-appeal entertainment applications for mobile consumers.

Consumer applications were given a strong foundation through the successful deployment of embedded applications on handsets: the address book, email and text messaging. These out-of-the-box applications still serve to give a generic level of functionality to executives in the enterprise today. But when creating enterprise applications for the operational side of business – blue collar, task-orientated fieldworkers – the challenge is multiplied. Because such unique applications are not embedded on operating systems, they need to be created by a third party or developed in house.

These applications need to be integrated into the existing IT enterprise and modified in keeping with how your business develops. It’s worth remembering that while the typical executive can manage without access to their email for an hour or two, once in-use, the task-oriented fieldworker is at a loss without their mobile application. Workflow applications become mission critical.

Next time we’ll look at what platform questions should be asked on the road to building an enterprise application.

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